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Sunday, 26 May 2019

How to solve problems: More openness and trust, please!

Thursday, 22 May 2014 | Posted by: Sonja Schulte, European Coatings Journal

It’s well known that the coatings industry tends to be a bit conservative and secretive. Paint makers guard their recipes with the same fervour as Gollum watches over his treasure in "Lord of the Rings”, and they are loath to tell their raw materials suppliers anything about the other ingredients in them. Some even go so far as to refuse to say what they use the raw material for. And they are quite entitled to do so. But what if there's an issue with the paint because it fails to perform as expected, or what if someone would like to collaborate on further developing a particular product?

Life can become really tricky for paint makers if problems are discovered during an internal quality audit or – even worse – by the end user. When that happens, it’s a case of "fix it as quickly as possible”. Again, the reason for wanting to develop a product might be that the end user is imposing new demands on it. In such cases, a paint maker usually seeks out the support of the raw materials supplier. Unfortunately, even then, some makers still refuse to divulge the composition of their product to the supplier. It’s a bit like a father with a sick child saying to a doctor, "Help me, my child is sick”, but refusing to allow the doctor to examine the child. (This beautiful analogy was recently conjured up for me by a raw materials supplier). The supplier is then left to puzzle intensely over the problem. Yet, if he knew what else were in the recipe, he could take a much more direct approach that, crucially, would produce a result faster. Now, the paint makers among you will argue that the recipe is the single most important piece of know-how underpinning business success. That is a moot point. Presumably, there is much more similarity between your recipes for a given application area than you all care to admit. But even if the secret recipe were the most important piece of know-how, more trust and openness in your dealings with suppliers would go a long way towards speeding up the troubleshooting process. Besides, there are ways to regulate this form of cooperation contractually. Paint makers could also do with showing more openness to each other. More than likely, you’re all facing similar challenges anyway. And you wouldn’t necessarily have to choose a direct competitor to discuss the details with.

Other industries show how it’s done

The automotive industry holds events at which OEMs discuss issues that affect all producers equally. Or they show their body-in-white vehicles – i.e. the raw carcases – for each other to examine and evaluate. One such event is EuroCarBody and it revolves around who can present the best new car body. The key word here is "new". The models on display are precisely those which will be launched onto the European market in the same year as the event. Now, that’s genuine benchmarking! Each participant (including competitors) critiques the various exhibits, one of which will duly win a coveted trophy for the carmaker. Development in the automotive sector is about racing to see who is first to market with a new development. Those who miss out can play catch-up afterwards since the cars can be bought freely on the open market and no-one can stop competitors taking one apart for a really close look. Let's face it. You’ve probably done something similar, haven’t you?

By developing more openness and trust, all of you in the coatings industry could free up more time for the things that really set your company and your products apart from the competition!

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Sonja Schulte
European Coatings Journal
Sonja Schulte
Editor-in-Chief, Science & Technology
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